[iDC] Labor in Second Life

Scott Kildall scott at kildall.com
Thu Jul 9 18:19:23 UTC 2009

Hi Michael,

Thank you for your considered response. These are good questions!

As far as your primary inquiry goes, it wasn't so much that builders  
in Second Life insisted on being paid money but rather when doing the  
business negotiations, we framed it as a paid project.

In the 5th step of the pitch, I would state that we would pay  
500L-3000L for each object, depending on its complexity. There were  
many reasons to pay the builders, but one of them was certainly to  
create a sense of obligation: we wanted to get 40 finished objects.

I observed roughly three types of builders:
1. Those that connected to the concepts behind the project and gave a  
discount rate/more time than requested.
2. Those that wanted to make money in SL and could care less about the  
project itself.
3. Artists that I knew in real life who participated in SL and wanted  
to participate in the project.

My feeling is that for #2, that the website was a way of giving them  
attention to their business in SL and for #1 and #3, it was a way of  
acknowledgement, like giving credits at the end of a film for the  
production team.

And as for as advertising in real life, we didn't post on Craigslist  
(too general), but did do some extensive publicity on some SL-related  
blogs to solicit builders. We got just one person from this source  
(The Portable Hole). It took me awhile to figure out the optimal way  
to get builders in SL. Doing loads of IMs to logged in avatars was the  
best solution because meeting in-world where we could look at the  
Imaginary Objects Showroom in shared time was critical to quickly  
initiating agreements.

On a related note, I recently finished a video installation (called  
"Black Hole Series") where I built a green screen in SL and used its  
physics engine to make objects drift towards a swirling black hole. To  
obtain specific objects (I needed about 60 for the final project) that  
I couldn't find for free or cheap in SL, I worked with one of the  
builders from the No Matter project (he was a case #2). I paid him  
500L ($1.50) per object, which he produced in 10 minutes or so. He  
felt like I was the chump the chump here but felt like I was getting a  
fantastic deal and have hired him to make about 1/2 the objects I  
needed: specific things like a life preserver or the Sputnik satellite.

I am curious if anyone else on this list has worked in Second Life  
with paid builders -- ones that they do not know in real life -- and  
what are their experiences?

Other things, about No Matter (in response to Michael)...Excalibur  
looks like Excalibur precisely because it is a sword embedded in a  
rock. Schrodinger's Cat is not just the cat, but the vial of poison  
that is next to it and the box that encloses the cat and the vial.  
Some objects such as the Trojan Horse may have existed -- we will  
never know for sure.

We decided not to make mythical creatures: the Pegasus, Yeti, etc.,  
though the Cat or the Missing Link (Skull) could be considered an  
exception. Architecture was off-limits, since they are not really  
"objects," e.g. the Tower of Babylon, the Mile-High Skyscraper (as  
you've pointed out) or the Fountain of Youth.

Some mythical objects have been hijacked into a specific form by  
popular culture. Is it possible to image the Arc of the Covenant  
*without* thinking of the one in the Raiders of the Lost Arc? While,  
others are specific copies of props from real films, like the Maltese  
Falcon or the Yellow Submarine. Here, the translation from forms in  
Second Life into real life is what grants the paper sculptures  
something alluring, by capturing the essence of these icons.

One of the ideas behind the No Matter project was to bring shared  
forms from a virtual space that most people are unfamiliar with into a  
real space. In the gallery, maybe 5% are familiar with Second Life,  
but everyone knows what the Maltese Falcon looks like. Other objects  
like the Time Machine are less obvious. If Second Life could be the  
best example of a shared imaginary space, does it not hold that this  
is the appropriate site to create shared imaginary objects?


On Jul 8, 2009, at 9:33 PM, Michael H Goldhaber wrote:

> Scott,
> This is certainly an entertaining report, but what of its wider  
> context? As  Marx's famous observation about the bee and the  
> architect suggests, virtually everything any human purposely makes  
> was made first in imagination. Most imagined objects probably do not  
> get beyond this stage, yet many of these are shared, such as the  
> unbuilt buildings in any well-known architect's portfolio — Frank  
> Lloyd Wright's mile-high skyscraper comes to mind — or a working  
> thermonuclear reactor. Nearly every object in  any work of fiction   
> is also in this category: Madame Bovary's handkerchief, or Lady  
> Windermere's fan. Your first example, by the way, the Trojan Horse,  
> as far as I know could well have been really built by attackers of  
> Troy. In any case, working models of the horse were probably made  
> for the various movie versions, and no doubt others by children and  
> adults for purposes of free play or  purely amateur theatre. This  
> would also be the case for Excalibur, and many of the others. In  
> other words, lots of people have made replicas of this sort, in the  
> real world, for free, out of love of playacting, or for the  
> attention, or both.
> My main question, then, is why did your builders in Second Life  
> insist on being paid anything at all, even in Linden money? Is that  
> a constraint of SL itself, an artifact of your pitch, or a statement  
> of who takes part in SL? Did you ask for collaborators for  your  
> project, or even for volunteers? Did you try to explain your  
> purposes in compelling ways? I see you acknowledged the builders on  
> your website, and they wanted that.  Could it be they wanted the  
> attention that would bring?
> A second question: Did it occur to you to advertise on Craigslist  
> for SL builders? Wouldn't that have simplified the work you had to  
> do, or is the difficulty part of the work?
> Finally: I am unsure how "Excalibur" might be distinguished from any  
> fancy sword, or how Schrodinger's cat could be represented as  
> different from any old cat. (The important thing about this cat  
> depends, of course, on its being invisible to the observer, in the  
> box with the rest of the probabilistic contraption, so that it would  
> have to be thought of as in a superposition of being dead and being  
> alive, all of which Schrodinger meant ironically. )  Can you  
> explain, or does this not matter? If it doesn't, couldn't you simply  
> have "plundered" any "object' already found in SL? After all, as  
> virtual objects they were already part of SLers' shared imaginary  
> objects, or weren't they? If the virtual is different from the  
> shared imaginary, what delimits the virtual? Would detailed verbal  
> description or a set of blueprints not count as virtual as well? If  
> so, what about a a more minimal description or a simply drawn  
> sketch? (After all, a time will surely come when the now current  
> state of SL will seem far cruder than the then available Virtual  
> Reality sites. If present-day SL would still count then as VR, why  
> not these others? )
> Best,
> Michael
> On Jul 8, 2009, at 10:58 AM, Scott Kildall wrote:
>> Hi everyone,
>> On the topic of immaterial labor, Trebor has prodded me to discuss a
>> specific work called "No Matter," which is a collaboration between
>> myself and Victoria Scott and was part of the Mixed Realities
>> commission by Turbulence.org in 2007.
>> The No Matter project looks at the concept of  the "imaginary object"
>> -- these are shared objects of the mind, which appear in myth,  
>> fiction, impossible objects, thought experiments and more. Popular
>> examples include the Trojan Horse, the Holy Grail, Schrodinger's Cat,
>> the Yellow Submarine, the Time Machine and many more.
>> We constructed these in Second Life, a space of pure imagination, and
>> extracted these as "digital plunder" (Second Life being a proprietary
>> environment) and then reconstructed them as high-quality paper
>> sculptures.
>> The project is at www.nomatter.org
>> To make these objects in Second Life, we hired builders and artists
>> from that environment, with our commission dollars. Part of the
>> reasoning here was a practical one: neither one of us is a skilled
>> builder. But, we also wanted to do a study on the construction of
>> value through immaterial labor. Here, we found many startling  
>> surprises.
>> First, that negotiating prices was much like real life. I had a  
>> "five-
>> point" pitch which began by scanning through publicly-available  
>> groups
>> of builders, finding people with a suitable profile. Then, I had to
>> make sure they were actually online (people generally don't respond  
>> to
>> offline messages) and then I would initiate a conversation.
>> By step 3, I had them in my "imaginary objects showroom" which housed
>> the first set of objects (Excalibur, the Book of Love, the Brain in
>> the Vat and the Wheel of Fortune). At the end, if they were still
>> interested, we had agreed upon a price for a completed 3D imaginary
>> object typically with a one-week deadline.
>> Often, I was an exploiter of labor and several times they exploited  
>> my
>> lack of knowledge of how long it took to make something. I joke here,
>> because the build costs were $1.50 to $12 per object. The objects  
>> took
>> as little as 10 minutes for simple things such as the Monolith from
>> 2001 and as long as 40 or 50 hours for some of the more complex
>> objects such as the Trojan Horse (built by a student in Mexico City)
>> or the Wings of Icarus (built by an industrial designer in  
>> Slovenija).
>> The final joke was on Victoria and myself, as we spent countless  
>> hours
>> cutting, folding and gluing the paper sculptures. We ran out of time
>> and hired a real-life assistant at $15/hour, which didn't feel like
>> exploitation at all.
>> But, several aspects of labor in Second Life emerged that I think
>> would be of interest to this list:
>> 1. A severely undervalued economy. People are willing to do labor for
>> very low wages and there is no minimum wage. Part of this is an
>> unwillingness to transfer money in from your credit card, adhering to
>> a ethos that you need to make money in SL to furnish your lifestyle,
>> pointing to an irrational behavior  (in the sense of logic of  
>> capital)
>> and rational (in the sense of logic of addiction).
>> 2. Lack of accountability created huge labor management problems.
>> Avatars often disappeared. If they were not in-world, then they could
>> not be reached. I was constantly tearing my hair out trying to track
>> down people.
>> 3. Interpersonal management. To get things done, in SL, I had to do a
>> lot of talking and chatting and learned about people in Second  
>> Life. I
>> found doing strange things, like riding in a virtual car race in a
>> custom-designed racecar by one of the builders who was a 'woman from
>> Paris' out of sense of obligation. I would also have multi-threaded
>> IMs going on at the same time. Sometimes I typed things in the wrong
>> window, blowing my cover, but this, I discovered is a common mistake.
>> 4. Very little interest in IP issues *outside* of Second Life. Even
>> though we were making physical objects based on the builds done by  
>> the
>> members of Second Life, essentially minting art currency, hardly
>> anyone cared or asked about this. They liked having their information
>> on our website, but the physical constructions didn't seem matter to
>> most people.
>> In the end, I found that anonymity created a unique situation which
>> can be summed up in one word: boundaries. If someone is in-world, you
>> can negotiate and talk with them. Otherwise, there is no way to
>> contact them. The money flow had a wall -- despite the press that
>> people are making oodles of money in Second Life, I certainly didn't
>> see this happening. My observation was that this was a hobby for most
>> people, but a hobby because they enjoyed the idea of negotiating  
>> under
>> a false identity in a micro-economy.
>> All of these interactions differs greatly from the user-generated
>> content model, since this is essentially an economy within a UGC
>> operation. What would happen if we had Facebook Dollars? I shudder at
>> the thought.
>> I am curious to hear the thoughts of others on this.
>> Scott Kildall
>> www.kildall.com
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